Two great principles govern all interaction on earth: the male principle of competition and the female principle of cooperation. The judicious balance between these opposing forces functions both as a means of perceiving the world as well as guidance for getting along in it.
In our contemporary perspective, these polarities assume a hierarchical position, with corresponding values assigned to the superior and inferior roles. War and peace are often interchangeably substituted for what we identify as the male and female principles. Put another way, many people observing and trying to ameliorate global problems posit that the male principle, war, is wrong and the female one, peace, is right. Patriarchy seems to subjugate, quantify, label and differentiate, while matriarchy seeks to incorporate, include and envelop.
So patriarchy is wrong, right?
The hierarchical superpositioning of masculinity over femininity is inextricably connected to the nature of the problem itself. Fritjof Capra, in The Web of Life, describes the problem as a “crisis of perception” where problems are viewed as distinct, unlinked entities. In reality, the interconnected male and female principles play a tug of war with each other, balancing each other’s creative and destructive powers, a natural system of checks and balances. In Eastern philosophy, the yin and yang cannot exist independently. An ongoing intimate dance between yang, the male principle, and yin, the female principle, governs the seasons, the transformation from daylight into darkness and the relationships between human beings. The Egyptian ankh symbolizes the male and female union; its name in Arabic means simply, “life.”
Thus, the nature of the problem lies not in stratifying the principles into a “better or worse” paradigm, but rather realizing that the problems of the world, at the individual, local, national and global levels, result from the imbalance between the principles of cooperation and competition. The Western dominant culture has distorted its values to place more worth in competition and aggression, and the mysterious feminine principle of integration and synthesis is summarily dismissed as witchery or weakness.
Yet most importantly, inherent in this disproportionate attention to the male principle is the unchecked capacity for destruction and objectification.
Perhaps this is why it is so troubling to see primarily males occupying the vast majority of seats at the United Nations and serving as heads of state for the majority of countries. Perhaps this is why it is disturbing that the purportedly balanced and accurate news programs boast a majority of males in the roles of interviewer and interviewee. Perhaps this is why the theater of war, comprised of a cast of mainly men, is the ultimate assault on femininity.
Liberation, the act of rescuing the damsel in distress, the art of war to free people seen as incapable of carving out their own destiny, is a patriarchal fallacy. The idea of liberating Iraq by force represents the systematic domination of male over female, the forcible rape and ensuing grief and shame of disempowerment that women have historically encountered as victims of male-perpetrated violence.
Human nature, incorporating the experience of both men and women, has a predisposition for conflict. People inherently perceive the world from different perspectives and have an inclination to disagree. War, however, is a different case entirely. Its entire existence rests on the premise of otherness and separation, of a definitive right and wrong, of intensive training and preparation for battle, of desensitization to that which makes us uniquely and more deeply human: conscience.
Embodied in the female experience is this notion of conscience. It is the intuitive, secret voice that whispers the directions for following a higher path. It is the dreamlike symbolism revealed through humility and introspection. Turning inward requires reflection and self-knowledge, faith in the unseen. It is the root system which takes hold beneath the soil before peering upward into the light. First we must go deep before emerging into the world.
Iraq, the religious and historical cradle of civilization, is a potent metaphor for femininity. It is the Fertile Crescent, the great mother womb which gave birth to inventions like the wheel, the art of writing and three of the world’s far-reaching religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity which share a common Abrahamic lineage. It is the home of archaeological treasures buried deep in the vast desert sands. It is the home of unheard weeping, suffering borne disproportionately by grandmothers, mothers and children.
The invasion of Iraq is a crime against all women, against all that is feminine and sacred.
Around the world, countries amass arsenals of weapons like the testosterone buildup in prepubescent males. Bombs and missiles gather tension as they lie in wait of evacuation from planes which vanish from their targets quicker than absentee fathers evading child support. Barbara Hope, in her essay “Patriarchy: A State of War” recounts the U.S. Army basic training jingle, “This is my rifle (slaps rifle). This is my gun (slaps crotch). One is for killing, the other for fun.”
The decision to go to war with Iraq is one which will impact all members of Iraqi society, of American society and of people across the globe. A democratic process of hearing concerns from all involved has been systematically avoided and effectually discounted. The experiences of women and children, of students and elders, of those who will be on the receiving end of bombing campaigns and labeled ‘collateral damage’ have been given zero space in a credible, public dialogue.
An egregious disparity gapes between whose narrative matters and whose does not.
The runaway train of male competitiveness has flattened in its tracks the female experience, leaving a perpetual state of war and chaos where brute force is the law of the land. The feminine principles of cooperation, dialogue and diplomacy have been disregarded as ineffectual and powerless.
We have long outgrown the Roman motto, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Men on either side of the battle lines may declare a victory, but the women on both sides declare losses.
*Leah C. Wells serves as the Peace Education Coordinator for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.